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Tori Fisher / Gavel Media

BC Freshman Tracks Turtles Using Drone Technology

What was a CSOM student doing in Costa Rica helping researchers track the nesting of sea turtles? One might assume that a week-long trip over winter break assisting animal researchers would be a dream only for any biology or environmental science major, but Boston College freshman Branick Weix, CSOM '19, has proven otherwise.

Through his involvement in studying sea turtles with autonomous drone mapping, as well as several other pursuits, he’s shown how business and technology can be applied to various fields of study and aspects of life.

Weix became involved in the impressive project because of his love for both business and technology, specifically drones. Weix is founder and president of SkyLink Productions, a company in Minnesota—his home state—that offers high resolution aerial pictures and videos via drone technology.

About a year ago, the nonprofit group Seeds of Change approached Weix with hopes of working with him and his knowledge of drones, and together they brainstormed the idea to run a proof of concept with researchers down in Costa Rica. The team also partnered with The Leatherback Trust, an organization dedicated to saving leatherback sea turtles, and together, they came up with a plan to track sea turtle populations.

With Weix’s help, the researchers were able to get a much more extensive view of where turtles nest along Costa Rica beaches. Every single night, female turtles—which can grow up to a yard wide and weigh up to 1000 pounds—come to the beach to lay eggs. As they drag themselves across the beach they leave a trail, and these trails were what the team aimed to photograph using the drones.

As soon as the sun came up, Weix and the researchers flew drones up and down the beaches, looking for the tracks from the night before that would later be used to identify different species, the number of turtles that came in, and other data. The ultimate goal was to take all the pictures from the drones and stitch them together into one big map that displays all of the nesting sites.

Normally, there are permanent researchers on the beaches during the entire eight-month nesting season, and they must physically track the nesting sites by walking up and down the beach. The autonomous drone mapping and Weix’s involvement proved to be a success, as the drones allowed for a quicker, more convenient, and more comprehensive way to track the turtles.

Though Weix traveled far to put his resources and skills into action, he’s also been making quite the impact back on campus as well, and sees BC as an excellent place to explore his interests. During the college selection process, Weix debated between pursuing engineering or business, and said of his decision, “I ultimately decided going to a school with good liberal arts and also a good business school, because I felt that the business side of things allows you to apply your ideas more, and you can also keep building.”

Weix lauded his CSOM professors, courses, and programs. “BC has been amazing so far,” he said. “Everyone here is so willing to help and very interested and very experienced.”

He also spoke highly of CSOM’s Shea Center for Entrepreneurship, a program that began this year and has allowed him to interact and collaborate with other ambitious students and hear about their ideas. Weix said of the program, “It’s always amazing to see what kinds of projects kids are coming up with, and seeing how kids are taking their ideas and turning into scalable businesses is always interesting.”

Tori Fisher / Gavel Media

Tori Fisher / Gavel Media

Currently, Weix is working on a project with information systems professor George Wyner to build a 3D-printed model of campus. They plan to use drones to take pictures of campus, and then use modeling software to turn those pictures into a physical model that they can print out on a 3D printer. Weix extended the invitation to anyone interested, saying, “If any students are interested in that they can reach out to me. We have a few students right now helping out, and anyone that’s interested in drones, or just technology and mapping, is welcome to join and help us.”

Drones can be used to assist in many different areas of study and aspects of life, whether it’s researching turtle nesting patterns or creating 3D models. Many people have questioned Weix on why he—a CSOM student, not a biology major—went to research turtles in Costa Rica and if he is interested in the sciences as well.

Weix explained that although it was a fascinating topic to learn about, he is not particularly interested in the field of biology, and for him, the trip was more about the business side of things. He saw it as “an opportunity to help other people, learn a lot, and have a great experience. And that’s what it’s turned out to be so far.”

Weix further expanded upon the wide application of the drone: “People are using it for earthquake help, or they’re using it for businesses to make videos, to take pictures, or they’re using it for analysis, or construction, or real estate—there’s literally dozens and dozens of different uses.” As drones become more prevalent and helpful in society, it will be interesting to see what more can be done with them and what further strides will be taken by Weix and other drone aficionados.

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